Gently weighing in on Kabir Singh
You can hate on a film as much as you like, but over-estimating its intent/impact would be rather dumb, no?
No, I didn't watch Sandeep Reddy Vanga's Kabir Singh, when it released in theatres. I'd seen Vanga's Arjun Reddy in Telugu—about a young, obsessive lover, with serious anger management issues, that Kabir Singh is a scene-by-scene remake of.
The original hadn't quite left me moved, or even deeply impressed. It's best to avoid a film (especially for reviewing purposes), if you can already recognise a prejudice within, before walking into its intended remake. Would I do the same if Mani Ratnam decided to remake Kaatru Veliyidai (2017) in Hindi—another mildly neurotic love-story centred on a hero with self-restraint issues? Hell, yeah.
But that's because, personally, as a viewer, I find it hard to empathise with a flawed lead, whose flaws outweigh any reasons that you might want to root for him/her—mainly in a romance, which is so much about wanting the girl to get together with the guy, in the first place.
Such prejudices, I notice, even extend in some people's cases, towards certain actors, whose off-screen actions they don't approve of. And so they hate on the fellow's films, regardless. Having so bought into the celebrity culture, they start to believe that a movie with a 300-plus crew (scripting onwards) is entirely an actor's sole piece of work.
Okay I'm specifically referring to certain folk who don't like, say, Salman Khan as a public person. And given that predisposition, should simply not be watching Salman Khan in a picture. Though anybody who says they don't hold similar biases isn't entirely lying. Just that they don't know. Biases, more often than not, in such matters, seem to reside in the unconscious. A prejudice, on the other hand, at its core, comes to the fore.
So, why did I go watch Kabir Singh in the cinema, finally? Because when a movie, directed by a South Indian director in Hindi, releasing on a non-festival/vacation weekend, starring a leading man hardly at the top of his game—loaded with every reason to fail, yet surpassing even the producer's expectations, to become the sleeper blockbuster of the year, raking in numbers that the Khans (Salman/Aamir/Shahrukh) are unable to touch—swiftly inches close to R200 crore at the box-office, you go in to watch the audience. Rather than the movie itself!
Which is what I did; with an eye on the screen, of course. The hall was half-packed on a day when Mumbai was nearly flooded. The gender-ratio was more in favour of women than usual. Most of the film's detractors, I observed on social media, attributed their hate to an inherent misogyny in the movie that glorifies its lead character—the 'tough guy', who preys on a pretty-much muted girl, who in turn falls for him. But did she have a choice?
That would equally apply to Arjun Reddy, starring the hulk-like Vijay Devarakonda. Only that baby-face Shahid Kapoor as Kabir Singh looks far less intimidating. To a point you wonder how he manages to spread so much 'dehshat' (horror) in his med-school, with his presence alone. But you go along (not so hard).
This is hot on the heels of Padmaavat, where Kapoor played a relatively 'chomu'/meek Ratan Singh before the beastly Ranveer Singh as Alauddin Khilji. Kabir Singh isn't a part you would instantly associate with the teetotaller Kapoor.
Which explains a lot of what audiences have been repeatedly seeking lately—watching their actors transform before the big-screen (anti-casting, as it's called), in the service of popular entertainment. Rather than simply catching 'stars' from the days of yore. That performance draws you in. And nobody thinks Kapoor is personally condoning his actions in the pic (that's not his image), like Sallu fans from back in the day may have—watching Tere Naam!
What I had enjoyed about Arjun Reddy was the urbane class-topper, socially degenerating under the influence of drugs and alcohol. This was quite refreshing, given that substance-abuse is only viewed from the angle of a suicidal loser—losing it further still (Devdas/Dev.D). As against a functional addict, finding escape in coke/booze—carrying on with decadence, treating the present as a phase. This is far more common in cities than represented in cinema.
The audience, I could tell, were laughing at Kabir Singh. In the vein of watching a movie that is, in its essence, high on toxic masculinity, wading into 'risk wala' (unrequited) love—in contrast to the almost archetypal, androgynous, metro-sexual Bollywood hero, prancing around over 'ishq wala' love!
Would this male audience get encouraged by Kabir Singh's behaviour? Or would the women tolerate someone like him? Can't imagine any more than they would—regardless of this movie. Or any other. Most which end with good inevitably winning over evil. By that logic, moviegoers should be better human beings for that fact alone. The only tangible impact/influence the commercial success of Kabir Singh is ever likely to have, if at all, are more movies of the sort, in the short-term—before the novelty runs out. That's all.
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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